Braves general manager Frank Wren said Saturday that Braves reliever Cory Gearrin’s elbow injury includes “ligament involvement” and the team will get a second opinion from Dr. James Andrews next week.
Translation: Tommy John surgery could be on the horizon for Gearrin, who would become the third Braves to undergo the season-ending procedure this spring, along with Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy.
The Braves have recalled Ryan Buchter from Triple-A Gwinnett to fill the bullpen spot vacated by Gearrin.
“We’ve kind of eaten through our depth,” Wren said. “It looked like we were in pretty good shape coming into spring training with some guys about to get healthy and all of a sudden the next thing you know we’re pretty thin. We still have three more guys we’re hoping get activated in the next three to four weeks to get back to full strength.”
Wren was referring to starters Ervin Santana, Mike Minor and Gavin Floyd, who are expected to join the Braves rotation in mid-to-late April, in that order. Wren indicated the Braves have continued to look outside the organization for pitching depth but unless something changes, plan to start the season with the pitchers they have.
“We have been watching very closely other moves to see if there was someone who could upgrade us or someone who could help us,” Wren said. “And we haven’t seen anyone we felt were better than the pitchers we have.”
Gearrin had his right elbow evaluated by Braves lead orthopedist Xavier Duralde on Friday. After leaving Tuesday’s spring training outing against the Tigers with elbow tenderness, he was diagnosed with an elbow sprain. The sidearmer left the game after throwing back-to-back errant pitches to Torii Hunter.
“It was just kind of tender a little bit, didn’t really feel right,” Gearrin said after leaving Tuesday’s game. “The last two I threw, I definitely knew something felt a little tender. At this point in camp I didn’t really want to go out there and try to pitch through anything like that.”
Gearrin, 27, was poised to claim one the Braves eight bullpen spots. They plan to open the season with four starters and eight relievers until Santana is ready to enter the mix. Gearrin brought experience from 77 major league outings over the past three seasons, including 37 appearances last year when he had a 3.77 ERA, and he is out of options.
Gearrin had a 6.35 ERA in a team-high 12 appearances this spring, with 12 hits allowed in 11 1/3 innings, three walks and nine strikeouts. He had been rounding into shape of late though, allowing one hit and one run with four strikeouts in four innings over his previous four appearances before Tuesday.
The Braves have already lost Medlen and Beachy to elbow injuries this spring. Medlen and Beachy left their spring starts on consecutive days, March 9-10, with torn elbow ligaments, each of which required season-ending Tommy John surgeries for the second time in their careers.
Medlen and Beachy are two of six major league pitchers who have undergone Tommy John surgery in January, February and March of this year. According to Dodgers head athletic trainer Stan Conte, who studies injury analytics, that figure is well above the average of 2.2 pitchers who had Tommy John surgery in that same preseason three-month span over the past 12 seasons. Before this spring, the previous high was four in 2007. Also of note, is that four of the six pitchers to undergo surgery are having their second Tommy John surgery.
“When I look around baseball there’s a lot of us like this,” Wren said. “It’s just one of those springs and there’s not a lot you can do about it.”
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